TITLE: "AMERICAN LIGHTNING: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime
of the Century."
AUTHOR: Howard Blum, "The Brigade: An Epic Story
of Vengeance, Salvation and WW II;"
"The Eve of Destruction: the Untold Story
of the Yom Kippur War"
GENRE: 20th Century Historical Crime Narrative
LENGTH: 10.5 hours, unabridged
PUBLISHER: Random House Audio
NARRATOR: John H. Mayer, "American Lion: A
Biography of Pres. Andrew Jackson;" "Mellon: An American Life"
The manhunt and trial of America's first 20th Century Terrorists.
The actual historical account of the 1910 Los Angeles Times bombing, the subsequent nation-wide manhunt and the terrorist 'Trial of the Century that followed,' plays like a true crime thriller surround by important social themes and a clash between historical titans. And that's the real story without any literary embellishments. Got to credit former New York Times and Vanity Fair reporter, HOWARD BLUM, for uncovering this vital story. He wraps it in a creative narrative that says sweeping historical movie. (The book has been optioned for film by the creatives behind the ROSEANNE and HOME IMPROVEMENT TV shows)
There are titans practically on every CD. Here's L.A. Times founder, HARRISON GRAY OTIS; son-in-law, HARRY CHANDLER; Socialist leader EUGENE DEBS, Union organizer SAMUEL GOMPERS and the three leads of the piece: celebrated detective WILLIAM J. "BILLY" BURNS, called America's SHERLOCK HOLMES; legendary defense lawyer CLARENCE DARROW, and Hollywood film pioneer D.W. GRIFFITH. The author frames the bombing and trial as the premier tectonic event between the greedy forces of American capitalism - Otis, Chandler, Burns - and terrorist elements in the emerging labor movement involving Debs, Gompers, and Darrow.
Remember the parallel story format ERIK LARSON used in "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Mayhem and Madness at the Fair that Changed America?" In this narrative, Blum constructs three, count 'em three, story lines with Burns, Darrow and Griffith that eventually intersect.
The problem for listeners is Blum makes the mistake of embellishing an already terrific story by jacking-up the drama. This story sells itself without any creative non-fiction additions. He uses a narrative style of history which allows him license to create whole scenes, dialogue and thoughts between historical characters without verification in fact. The result: shaky history, over-ripe writing.
Editors could have cut this book way back starting with D.W. Griffith and the founding of the movie industry. It doesn't really fit. Blum says "Birth of a Nation" was really about the revenge of a repressed working class against greedy capitalists - not the pillage of the defeated Civil War south by carpetbaggers and the rise of the righteous Ku Klux Clan. It's like the author felt he needed to goose things up with the likes of MARY PICKFORD, BLANCHE SWEET and the GISH sisters.
BOTTOM LINE Fascinating historical story, over ga-bumbled by embellishment. This is one of those rare cases when an audio abridgment might've been better. It could make an outstanding movie, if it ever gets made.